The second part of our roundtable series focuses on the Atlanta Braves and the offseason at large. Here we will try to predict what moves GM Alex Anthopoulos will be considering in the coming months. Let’s get to it!
What do you think is the Braves’ biggest need this offseason? Who are some players that you could see filling that need?
Eric: To re-sign Marcell Ozuna to a multi-year contract. They won’t find a better DH on the open market and his production is what got the Braves through the rotation nightmare. The Braves have some interesting options to fill other roster roles either internally or on the FA/trade market, but Ozuna is pretty much THE guy for the DH spot that we expect will be available in the coming years.
Ivan: I think the biggest “need” is just to find a way to keep everyone healthy and stay the course. This is a good, strong roster with a lot of options. Even if the financial situation is awful, the team should be primed for a fun and exciting 2021, whatever that season ends up looking like in the end. At this point, most of the roster holes are more of a “want” and not a “need.” Maybe the biggest “need,” such as it is, is taking the opportunity to start really thinking about games as sets of innings rather than a by-the-by rotation exercise with a bullpen backend. The Braves have (and keep having) the arms to do this, while their experiments with a regular rotation have not gone super-great. Maybe try to organize things to shove further in that direction?
Wayne: I would very much like Marcell Ozuna to remain in a Braves uniform. I do think a real veteran in the rotation would be huge. No more Dallas Keuchel or Cole Hamels, and please let this Adam Wainwright conversation end. There are a few big arms out there, and I understand this offseason is going to be a bit different than most financially, but I’d like to see some real money spent there.
AB: Biggest need is to continue to manage their resources wisely. Outside of that, starting pitching was Max Fried and a collection of replacement-level production for most of the year. They likely will get a free agent on a one-year deal. The Braves seem to like guys that can outstrip their peripherals (FIP, xFIP, xwOBA, etc.). Adam Wainwright, Garrett Richards, and 28-year-old Taijuan Walker fit that criteria well.
Doc: I’d love to see Ozuna back, and I’m not convinced he wouldn’t take another one year deal to kick the can down the road yet again. Because of the uncertainty of this offseason, I don’t think he’s going to get paid as much as a lot of people seem to think. If he’d be amenable to returning, give him $23M, whether there’s a DH or not. Shade Pache towards left center.
Demetrius: Obviously re-signing Ozuna would be grand, but I really wouldn’t be shocked if they decided to move on and dipped into the free agency market looking to strike gold for a third year in a row when it comes to big one-year deals. If I was in charge, my main priority would be to make a legit signing for the rotation — I agree with Wayne when it comes to avoiding the aging vets. Instead, I’d love to see them add an actual impact starter to the rotation. The homegrown arms have proven that they’re not far off from reaching their exciting potential, and I’d love to see their talent complemented instead of being anchored.
Kris: I think most fans would point to the starting rotation as the team’s biggest need but here the Braves are once again needing to address the middle of the order. Marcell Ozuna looks like the ideal fit if the DH sticks around in the National League, even if it takes a multi-year deal. Without the DH, then it becomes a little more sticky. If it isn’t Ozuna then they will have to pivot elsewhere for what seems to be an annual search for a power bat to hit in the middle of the order.
Shawn: The offense, and especially another legit thumper to put in the third, fourth, and fifth spot is the need. If Ozuna’s cost makes sense, especially if there is a DH, his bat and additions to our culture are worth a multiyear investment. He is a proven difference maker, and added a ton of value.
If not him, then AA’s creativity to sign through trade or another short term contract. If Ozuna does not work out, a trade for a Kris Bryant or another potential big bat could do the trick. On a bit or a lower scale, Michael Brantley or Joc Pederson come to mind. In addition to a significant offensive piece for the top of the order, checking back in on Yasiel Puig also is intriguing.
What other needs do you think the Braves need to address?
Eric: Even with Soroka healthy and Ian Anderson in the fold, they still need another capable starter….preferably one that isn’t about to apply for Social Security or with be production decline red flags. Bench is going to need a bit of work as well, but the extent of that will be better known after the nontender deadline.
Ivan: There are all sorts of “wants” that I still wouldn’t classify as needs. A lefty-hitting outfielder to platoon with Duvall. Some interesting rotation stalwarts that could pitch in pseudo-relief/bulk as needed. Or, better-than-Josh-Tomlins to do more or less the same. An insurance policy for Austin Riley at third and/or Dansby Swanson at short would be good, especially if the guy was basically a fringy starter that wouldn’t kill you over a full season.
Wayne: Really, outside of Ozuna and a starter, I’d like to see the Braves build depth, especially in the infield. A nice utility player — a real one, not Austin Riley who has been thrust into playing some left field and first base where he doesn’t belong — would be a great addition.
Doc: As the 2020 Braves showed, you can never have enough pitching, and even when you do have enough pitching, you still don’t have enough pitching. That said, I’d like to see the Braves add two veterans, maybe a Charlie Morton and Jose Quintana. Paired with the return of Soroka, as well as one offensive addition (if not Ozuna, maybe Joc Pederson in a platoon?), this would provide a 2021 team that is more evenly balanced than the 2020 team, whose offense had to outslug everyone to offset the Tommy Milone / Robbie Erlin experiments.
Demetrius: Outside of the big signings, they really just need to try to fill out the bench with some more reliable players. I don’t want the Braves to end up in another position where they’ve got to turn to a Culberson-like player during a high-leverage postseason situation. Injuries could have a say in the matter, but I’d still like for the team to get deeper instead of having to rely on the lineup staying impeccably healthy.
Kris: I think the middle of the order situation is the biggest need but it wouldn’t hurt to also address the rotation. I am not as worried as some as I think the Braves have enough internal rotation options to make it work although there will likely be some growing pains. They can supplement that group well by adding a veteran that can eat up some innings, particularly if we are looking at a 2021 season that is closer to the normal 162 games.
Shawn: A backup catcher with some good defensive chops could be worthwhile to help the pitching staff. A veteran 3B/OF option, especially left-handed, for insurance with Riley and to add a bit of punch off the bench. A veteran with a bit of upside who could emerge as an ok Number 3 or 4 SP if our young arms take a step back. A arm or two with good strikeout potential for the bullpen.
Which Braves player (or prospect) do you think is the most likely to be traded away this winter?
Eric: I don’t see how the Braves can keep Ender Inciarte on the roster in 2021, so that is my guess. Hard to predict any other moves given that this offseason is going to be a weird one.
Ivan: I’ll go with Sean Newcomb. The Braves can’t seem to figure out what exactly they want to do with him, and when they do try various things with him, they don’t end up great. I wish that we could just go back to 2017-2018 Newcomb, but for some reason, you can’t go home again, I guess.
Wayne: I wonder if that last start Bryse Wilson made increases his trade value a little. I think it is time to shed some of the pitching, but for most of them, the value has dropped significantly.
AB: I don’t know that the Braves will trade any prospects, unless it is to shed payroll. For example, using a prospect as a sweetener to rid themselves of Ender Inciarte’s contract or maybe even Will Smith’s depending on how bad the financials are. They have seemed reluctant to trade their young pitching.
Doc: Prospects are the cheapest players around - and in an offseason where teams are going to be hoarding money, the Braves might opt to keep their low-cost, high-upside talent. So, while I don’t think any major prospects get moved, I do think that some level of dead weight - looking at you, Ender Inciarte - gets swapped for another bad contract, or just gets released in what essentially equates to a trade for a roster spot.
Demetrius: Doc makes a very good point about prospects and their value at this particular moment in baseball history. I also agree that if I had to put down money on any player getting moved, it would be the Braves trying to get out from under Ender’s contract any way that they can.
Kris: Every offseason we wonder if this is the year that Atlanta cashes in some of its prospect capital for win-now upgrades. The emergence of Cristian Pache will have a lot of people labeling Drew Waters as expendable but I don’t think he will be going anywhere. Given the current financial situation of the league, having internal major league options that are cost controlled will be paramount. With how the season ended, I am guessing that Atlanta will try to move on from Ender Inciarte but it isn’t going to be an easy task.
Shawn: Sean Newcomb stands out as an option that the Braves could dangle in a challenge type trade for another semi young player who had a pedigree but has not panned out. Newcomb seems to need a change of scenery, and I feel his arm still is lively enough to intrigue suitors. He also could the addition needed to move on from Ender as well.
Will Atlanta work out an extension with Freddie Freeman during the offseason and what will it look like?
Eric: I would be shocked if the two sides couldn’t come to some sort of an agreement. I would look to Paul Goldschmidt’s deal for guidance on the numbers, but I could see something more backloaded if that is the en vogue move this offseason.
Ivan: I’d put odds at 50-50. I agree with Eric that the Goldschmidt deal seems like the framework that will be relied on if a deal is struck. Then again, maybe Alex Anthopoulos somehow pulls off his voodoo from the Acuña and Albies extensions and Freeman gets locked in for way less than that. I wouldn’t count on it, but it’s still insane that Ozzie Albies signed the deal he did.
Wayne: I think so. Freeman has been the penultimate Brave and there’s no reason he shouldn’t stay that way.
Doc: I think it gets done by Spring Training. Five years, $122.5M.
Demetrius: I can’t see them waiting for Freddie to even have serious thoughts of testing the free agency waters. Plus, it seems like Freeman himself wants to be a one-team man. I think that AA is going to take advantage of this and everybody’s gonna be happy with an extension going forward.
Kris: I have been pointing to Paul Goldschmidt’s extension as a good example of what an extension for Freddie Freeman might look like. The financial uncertainty of this offseason though will make things interesting. I don’t think the Braves will or should let Freeman get close to free agency but I am also starting to wonder if they try to work out a shorter deal.
Shawn: Echoing Kris, I mentioned the Paul Goldschmidt deal as a logical blueprint for a Freeman extension. Perhaps 5 years, $125M, or 4 years, $105ish mill and cheaper team option on the fifth year. I think if the Braves get into the reasonable ballpark on their offer, Freddie will be ready to sign as long as it is fair.
Make a bold prediction for the offseason that you didn’t cover above
Eric: The Mets will be crazy aggressive in the marketplace because Cohen has a ton of money and wants to make a splash. The end result will be them placing second to the Braves in the NL East and at least one member of the 2020 Braves will be on the Mets roster.
Ivan: $/WAR drops to around $6.5M per. Later, the MLBPA files another series of collusion grievances, alleging that the owners conspired to take advantage of the pandemic-caused economic situation to suppress salaries and substantially reset the salary inflation that had been ongoing for the past decade. The grievances result in a penalty for the owners, prompting another round of expansion in the mid-2020s — which MLB will use to justify expanding the playoffs to 50 percent of the field, since 16 of 32 makes for a more straightforward (but stupid) bracket. Hey, the prompt said bold!
Wayne: Tampa Rays finally get fed up with the Trop and move to Vegas! Okay, that’s an absurdly bold prediction but I’d love to see a team in Vegas. But I’ll go back to what I said above. There is an excess of young arms on the Braves. The time has come to weed out those there aren’t a spot for and upgrade team depth. I won’t go so far as saying who will be traded, but expect a big move involving some players fans may not be happy are leaving.
AB: MLB season doesn’t begin until they can get 50% capacity in stadiums. I don’t know when that will be. Hopefully Opening Day but around Memorial Day might be a better target.
Doc: The Mets will acquire two big ticket players. Whether this comes in the form of signing two of Trevor Bauer/JT Realmuto/Marcell Ozuna, or trading for Francisco Lindor or someone of that ilk remains to be seen, but Steve Cohen is in a position to spend a preposterous amount of money, and I think he wants to make a huge splash.
Demetrius: Everybody’s talking about how the Mets may be primed to spend money now that they have new ownership with deep pockets. While Cohen may have the deepest pockets in baseball, he won’t be the only one looking to make a splash. He won’t be the only NL East team trying to make a splash, either — it’ll be the Marlins looking to spend some money. Looking at it from their perspective, they made it to the NLDS in a season where nobody expected them to make it. They could just sit back and run it back with the same crew next season, or Derek Jeter could get the green light to give the front office the green light to actually make some splash signings in the offseason. If they do the latter, don’t be shocked if they suddenly pop up as a dark horse to make some big signings in what figures to be a down offseason.
Kris: The Braves won’t do much this offseason but will keep Marcell Ozuna for a much smaller number than many are predicting.
Shawn: I believe the Cardinals make the biggest trade of the offseason in terms of star power, the Red Sox make a big signing, and the White Sox bring in another proven SP/Bat to really take control of the NL Central with the Twins and Indians facing some questions moving foward.